Gates of Evangeline
Note: On occasion, our blog features reviews of books by local authors. This month we feature The Gates of Evangeline by Lawrence resident Hester Young. the following blog post was later accepted as a book review for The Princeton Packet. An expanded version of this review can be found in their October 30, 2015 issue.The Gates of Evangeline, a new novel by Hester Young, is a suspenseful journey through time and the murky outback of rural Louisiana following Charlotte Cates, a woman whose loss of a child forms the crux of a tantalizing psychic receptivity she is only just beginning to discover. Having undertaken the task of writing a history of Evangeline, a former plantation deep in the heart of the Louisiana bayou country, Charlotte arrives to find that there is far more to Evangeline than meets the eye, whether the viewpoint is psychic or just plain down-to-earth. Along the way, she will meet a young landscape designer who catches her fancy early on; a family seething with a bitterness that cannot be readily plumbed or explained; and ancillary figures whose work or social ties bind them, along with their heartaches and their dreams, to the plantation. As Charlotte’s newly discovered psychic ability takes on a more graphic and compelling form, she must try to learn how the plantation, its people, and its history relate to what she is able to see preternaturally.
The novel completes its course of narration and character presentation in a wholly satisfying manner, and one that has a refined internal consistency that sets this novel apart from other contemporary fictional works that employ the paranormal or "paranatural" in the development of their stories. The novel’s protagonist, whose paranormal ability sets the stage for the book, must first distill, and subsequently explore and focus, her particular ability as the story unfolds. In the course of this effort, Cate stays true to character throughout, as do the other characters in the novel.
The storyline, too, is consistent – there are developments and discoveries along the way that point the reader in the direction of the novel’s denouement, so that is it possible, along with the protagonist, to map out an authentic solution to the puzzle working with the revelations and discoveries at hand as the reader progresses through the book. The language of narrative and discourse in the book is straightforward – no flights of fancy, no outbursts of misplaced erudition – it is plain, direct, comprehensible.
The characters are credible and "true to form" – there are no inconsistencies of habit or personality that would stand out as invention for the sake of "narrative convenience." Their contributions to the plot are not contrived, nor are their strengths and weaknesses modified to fit the plot. They sound and act like people we have all met. Simplicity, shallowness, fidelity, treachery, self-sacrifice, anguish, disappointment, gallantry all make their appearance in ways that place no strain on credulity. No one is wholly without blame; no one is wholly without some redemptive quality. And the cast of characters is assembled without recourse to stereotypes. "Losers" have the capacity for redemption; "winners" are not inerrant.
The solidity of plot and character put me in mind of two other authors of superb accomplishment: Laurie King and Nevada Barr. This does not imply mere similarity or adherence to "type." It is simply the expression of the wistfulness one feels as the last page is reached, and the gentle impatience one experiences in anticipation of the author’s next book.
[The Gates of Evangeline is published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and is available @ your library.]